Years from now, when I look back to March 2016 I'll remember a few things - I'll think of my friend Joe who died a couple weeks ago after bouncing back and forth for three years between nursing homes and hospitals with everything under the sun (cancer, diabetes, heart condition, etc); I'll remember spending a week living with a guy I've been seeing since the beginning of the year as his roommate was on a trip out of the country; I'll remember coming to a career turning point (which I alluded to in yesterday's blog post). And I'll remember Mapplethorpe.
In the past three weeks, I've a kind of Mapplethorpe explosion in my life. Similar to other explosions this year - multiple unrelated mentions of both Electra Woman and Dyna Girl as well as the 90s group, The Cocteau Twins - but more intentional, as a publicist friend of mine offered me a bright and shiny copy of the new Mapplethorpe book if I'd do some press on it. Since I can be had for the price of a salted peanut, I of course said yes. And only for this friend (and Mapplethorpe) would I agree to schlep my UWS butt all the way out to the middle of "where in Brooklyn am I?" to see a screening of the new HBO documentary at Pratt.
Mapplethorpe - Look at the Pictures is a new documentary produced by the World of Wonder guys which will debut on HBO on Monday, April 4. This is an amazing piece of work that traces, in detail, Mapplethorpe's background from the burbs, to the NYC downtown art crowd of the late 60s/70s, and his incredible success and legacy into the 80s and after his death from AIDS in 1989.
Like with many of WOW productions, everyone is shown with their warts hanging out so this isn't really a puff piece. I think my favorite bit are interviews with Drummer magazine's Jack Fritscher who had a relationship with the artist. I won't spoil it for you but there's a spectacular little bit at the tail end of one of the interviews that made everyone in the audience erupt with a knowing laughter. Quite charming (and btw I am sitting here writing this after communicating with Jack about how much I enjoyed his bits and it turns out that he's familiar with my work, too. How awesome is THAT?). And, while the audience was clearly aware and appreciative of the art, I have to admit I was a little amused when there were a few audible gasps at a couple of the more ... extreme pieces - I believe that it was the fisting photo that got people out of their comfort zone. Fisting ALWAYS gets people out of their comfort zone - whether it's talking about it, seeing it, or doing it... but I digress.
The companion book is so incredibly beautiful that I would say nice things about Ted Cruz to have gotten it (ok not really, that's just a joke, who do I think I am? The owner of the OUT Hotel in NYC and bars on Fire Island?). It's a big book filled with Mapplethorpe's work as well as essays and a little history, and it's a kind of coffee table book but I would never actually put it out on the coffee table- it already resides in my fine art library - next to Mel Roberts, Michael Alago, Kent Taylor, Robert Richards and books from COLT and Kristen Bjorn. Mapplethorpe is the king of course but these are all worthy companions.
I think, perhaps, the strangest piece of this Mapplethorpe odyssey this past month was going to the little park just across the street from the Flatiron Building on a warmish Friday night two weeks ago to visit the pop up Mapplethorpe exhibit. HBO had set up a couple of custom built shipping containers stacked to create a small gallery with a half dozen screens showing various Mapplethorpe pieces in a slide show format accompanied with clips of Mapplethorpe's own words from the documentary.
How far we have come, right? It was just 25 years ago that Jesse Helms protested the use of NEA funds to mount an exhibition of Mapplethorpe's work - and now, in 2016, it's so mainstream that it's being viewed for free by the public - and projected to the side of the containers in full view of the world (OK so none of the "X" shots were included, but the progress is still startling).
Seeing his work again, for me, personally, was difficult. I was, of course, way too young to have ever been able to experience him and his work as it happened - he actually died on March 9, 1989, which was my 25th birthday and I had just come out two years before and far and away from the New York art scene. But, still, there's something in his work that speaks to me - that touches me in a way that many other artists' works don't. Maybe it was because I was introduced to his work through a friend, John, who died of AIDS in 1993, and so I connect in some way/somehow through him. Maybe it's because the leather scene that he shot and was so notorious for is one that I feel most part of. It was also so decimated by the plague that to have some sort (any sort) of record of those years now long gone, is a amazing. To have a record of the inherent beauty of SM, and see it captured so perfectly, is nothing short of a miracle. Leather/SM IS an art form of it's own - one that typically can't be captured by a photo, and yet Mapplethorpe was the first - and possibly the best.
Check out the trailer and see it on HBO starting Monday, April 4, 2016.